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"CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN 2"
(2005) (Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt) (PG)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: While vacationing with his large family, a father stoops to the level of his childhood acquaintance as both try to outdo the other in most every competitive way imaginable.
PLOT:
It's been two years since Tom (STEVE MARTIN) and Kate Baker (BONNIE HUNT) moved their family to Chicago and their kids are getting older, much to the dismay of Tom. Oldest daughter Nora (PIPER PERABO) is pregnant and she and husband Bud (JONATHAN BENNETT) are about to move to Houston. Oldest son Charlie (TOM WELLING) is working as a mechanic, while Lorraine (HILARY DUFF) has just graduated and is headed off to New York for an internship at a fashion magazine. Sarah (ALYSON STONER) is still a tomboy, but her newfound interest in boys means those days are numbered.

Meanwhile, the rest of the kids -- Mark (FORREST LANDIS), Jake (JACOB SMITH), Henry (KEVIN G. SCHMIDT), Kim (MORGAN YORK), Jessica (LILIANA MUMY), Mike (BLAKE WOODRUFF) and twins Nigel and Kyle (BRENT & SHANE KINSMAN) -- are all getting older and don't need their parents quite as much as they once did.

Accordingly, Tom thinks it would be a good idea for them to head for Lake Winnetka, Wisconsin -- one last time as a complete family -- for some end of the summer vacation. When they arrive, they find that their favorite rustic cabin is more rundown than they remember, especially when compared to the elaborate lake-front mansion owned by Jimmy Murtaugh (EUGENE LEVY). He and Tom grew up together, and their competitive ways resume right where they left off.

Jimmy is married to wife number three -- the much younger Sarina (CARMEN ELECTRA) -- and also has a large number of kids. They include teenager Anne (JAMIE KING), who thinks her dad's highly disciplined ways are stifling her, and eighth-grader Eliot (TAYLOR LAUTNER) who takes a liking to Sarah. With Jimmy trying to impress, better and defeat Tom any way he can, that only brings Tom down to his level, all leading to a big family competition between them.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
While women can be just as competitive as men and sometimes even more so, there's something inherently different in how and why the two sexes do that. Women compete with men and other women for a variety of reasons, but it usually isn't due to the simple fact that they seem to be hard-wired for that tendency like men are. Even at incredibly young age, boys are competitive simply because that's just the way they are, and many don't ever grow out of that.

Although that's something of a sad statement, to quote Walter Cronkite, "That's the way it is." And if handled with just the right comedic touch, such a mindset can make for amusing, funny and even hilarious material in any number of mediums. Apparently, that's what writer Sam Harper and director Adam Shankman believed when they sat down to come up with the story for "Cheaper by the Dozen 2." Then again, maybe they just sat by as some screenwriting program spit out this sequel to the original "Cheaper" film that came out way back in 2003 (and which itself was a remake of the original 1950 film of the same name).

With the introductions and basic plot (of moving the family to a new location and dealing with the stresses of balancing family and vocation) out of the way in the first film, returning writer Harper and new to the fold helmer Shankman (whose track record includes "The Pacifier" and "Bringing Down the House") pick up where the first film left off, now two years later. With the kids having grown up that much, and the older ones about to be out on their own, the film has returning star Steve Martin reprising his character who's less interested in coaching football than being concerned about his family growing up and apart.

That could have provided for some nice observational and even touching humor, but it's all a ploy to get back to our subject at hand - competitiveness. Feeling they have one last shot together as a complete family, Martin's character has the entire clan head back to the lake vacation home that generated lots of fond memories (and reportedly two of the kids in one of the film's mildly ribald bits). Yet, while there are some more heartfelt moments scattered about the rest of the production, that change in locale is present simply to pit Martin's character against the equally competitive one played by Eugene Levy.

Before anyone yells out "Bringing Down the House 2" (this film reunites the two lead actors with Shankman who directed them in that picture, also from 2003), it should be noted that this then turns into a simple mano a mano story, comedy style (or so it's intended). Levy plays the childhood acquaintance who's rich beyond his wildest dreams but still hasn't forgiven Martin's character for being more popular than him when both were kids. Accordingly, when the Baker clan runs into the slightly smaller Murtaugh one, Jimmy relishes being able to one-up Tom in every way conceivable, from his lakefront mansion that looks down on Sam's rental cottage to his trophy wife -- played by Carmen Electra -- and Stepford type kids.

In response, Sam despises and complains about everything Jimmy says, does and has, thus pitting the two against each other in various competitive and hopefully comedic standoffs. Martin's obviously played this sort of character before (in the original and other films), but so has Levy, but the material is far below their abilities.

Since the film is aimed at young kids and obviously stars a lot of them, some of the hilarity is supposed to stem from their involvement in the fatherly competition and other unrelated moments of slapstick material. Yet, just as is the case with the adults, the writing just isn't smart enough to make this comedy fly. And that's not just because the script repeats material from the first film (the dog and raw meat moments). After all, most sequels (especially comedies) do that to some extent.

It's just that everything is far too broadly and simply played out, with not enough imagination and cleverness to boost this beyond its sitcom style trappings. And the dramatic moments that are scattered among the hijinks -- including the older kids questioning their futures and their fathers' rules, as well as Alyson Stoner going through the tomboy to young woman transformation -- don't get enough time to develop as fully and satisfactorily as one would like. In fact, the best part of the film is that latter young puppy love material, but that's a completely different picture that would have necessitated dropping most of the rest of the kids.

Then again, that really wouldn't have made much of a difference as most of them are nothing more than glorified placeholders. While the filmmakers got all of the original child actors to return, there are simply too many of them (just like the first time around) and not enough time or material to warrant their presence (especially Hilary Duff who -- despite her character supposedly being the fashion expert -- looks awful, both physically and from a makeup perspective). Meanwhile, the terrific Bonnie Hunt has had her role shortchanged, meaning she's mostly just standing around when not giving Martin's character the "Oh honey" look.

While there are a smattering of laughs to be had, neither the comedy nor the drama work well separately and certainly not together (thus giving Martin's character a weird and forced dichotomy of the loony, competitive dad and caring, wistful father). The saying may go "The more, the merrier," but when it comes to large family comedies, "Yours, Mine and Ours" and these two "Cheaper by the Dozen" films prove that too much of a good thing -- okay a mediocre thing in this case -- can be bad. "Cheaper by the Dozen 2" rates as just a 3 out of 10.




Reviewed December 12, 2005 / Posted December 21, 2005


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